In a van with two bench seats, the boys slept. Taped blankets over windows blocked fussed up brush and green road announcements, and when the parents pointed roadside they pointed out only to each other. A lump of squirrel. A farmhouse painted pink. An elephant cloud split open just ahead, just above, immersion. Cross into Virginia and the up and down of green mountains, fruit pies and cow pies, stretches of puffed trees ready for picking. To the father, Virginia meant driving through a blast-radius of history. The mother kept her excitement at a low-boil.
A diner in Winchester – here they stopped for burgers and slow-cooked pudding; the boys emerged blinking in jackets too warm for this damp heat with the collars high and sleeves shoved to the elbow. How they must look beside their high-waisted short-panted parents. Wet outside, but a protected table and a rain-slickered girl in rollerblades.
“History happened here,” said the father.
“Also, there,” said the mother. “And there.”
“Don’t point at me,” said the youngest; “Nor me,” said the oldest; and they slunk into their coats and stared at rim-crusted glass bottles of ketchup and mustard.
“No pressure,” the father said. “History will be written with or without you.”
Inside the restaurant: antlers, signed photos, glassed-in flags, but people saw only their food or each other or dimly the floor. The mother watched through the rain-dotted window. Collections on walls: a poor man’s riches.
Twenty hours from home to finish, the drive 95% of the battle. The youngest, thirteen, collected for shop-lifting and now grounded to a van and all the trappings Motel 6 pull-up-to-your-room-and-vomits had to offer. He unwrapped soaps. Trips to vending machines allowed for good behavior. His sleeping bag resembled a cocoon, twisted and flattened by the weather, by camping trips with other thin-chested boys. Up close he examined the carpet checkered aqua and pink. His father snored. His mother sighed. It was almost a conversation: raucous, exhaustion. When woken a panicked child he’d sat outside their bedroom door and listened and whispered back answers to imagined questions.
The oldest, sixteen, camouflaged by his parents’ breathing, took the cardkey, found a gray-ponytailed man to buy paper-bagged bottles similar to those drunk in parked-car parks with his girlfriend back home. On the curb considering the slickness of the slickered girl in rollerblades, he felt lonely.
At the motel, the oldest woke his already-woken brother, led him to the mosquitoed pool, and sorry for themselves they wished for Meaningful Enough. A graduation, a career, a knock-out fuck.
Instead, their father with his last-chance vacation. The boys had voted for islands, for coasts, for nightclub nights and skipping to their twenties, for out of their parents’ watch and care.
As the father collected roadside objects, the boys stepped back themselves. Ketchup-smeared napkins and coasters, splotched paper bags, bags of stones and curbside sketches, flaps of fabric, wrappers. The mother, reluctant, handed up gutter nickels, bathroom-deserted lipsticks. The boys wondered what of their parents was contagious, what was already given lay dormant, what could spread again. Locked in a red van speeding toward history, the boys lay on bench seats, they closed their eyes, they listened.
Jessica Hollander received her MFA from the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 journals including Alice Blue, the Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Pank, Web Conjunctions, and wigleaF. You can find her at jessicahollanderwriter.com.